It is all about the starting point. Knowing how to approach a conversation can be the most important part. One particularly difficult topic is race. People often avoiding discussing race because they do not know how to do so. Silvia Gomes and Phoebe Zavis, two Matheia Elementary School teachers, are helping their students start the conversation on race.
Matheia Elementary School is an independent school in Ballard. It is a small school made up of 50 students, five teachers and two administrators. The teaching is similar to a middle school or high school, with teachers specializing in subjects as opposed to focusing on one grade. The teachers teach all the students and are with them through their years at Matheia.
Gomes teaches writing. Zavis educates students on social studies and handles beginning reading for kindergarteners and first-graders.
Gomes, 30, is of Caucasian-Hispanic descent and Zavis, 36, is of European descent. Together the two are creating a new unit focusing on race. They plan on teaching the students about race through their personal curricula and taking the school to the RACE exhibit.
They want to give their students a starting point to talk about race and the tools to have productive conversations surrounding race. At such young ages, the students don’t know how to talk about race or culture.
Gomes says that the children are almost afraid to talk about the issues. “I think we’ve gone to the extreme end of the political-correctness message,” Gomes says. “Even having a curiosity about another ethnicity, about people of color who are not the same as them. They have no words.”
The children aren’t exposed to a lot of cultural diversity in their daily lives. Ballard is largely an upper-middle-class community that is mostly white.
“It’s a bubble and it’s not anyone’s fault,” said Zavis. “They don’t have all of the facts and knowledge.”
Gomes and Zavis want to show their students that they can change the way they think about race. They know that their students think of the issues as something in the past. “It’s about looking at a present-day approach,” Gomes said.
They encourage their students to be advocates and global citizens. Being global citizens is one of the emphases at Matheia School. It does not mean just helping the people in other countries, Gomes said. It is about helping the people around the community no matter what they look like.
“It is one thing to say you do not judge people based on the color of their skin,” Zavis said. “It is another thing to ask what is wrong with the whole picture.”